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Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

Director Ben Affleck’s Live by Night is a period piece/costume drama that looks like a lot of work went into it, although it never feels like a cohesive picture.

Affleck stars as Joe Coughlin, one of those gangsters you just gotta love, fighting the gangster fight during Prohibition in sunny Florida. Joe rises to the top of the gangster field, despite being the son of a cop (Brendan Gleeson), and despite basically being an all-around good guy.

The problem is that Affleck fails to give his central character a true identity and emotional toolbox. The character feels stilted, and the movie around him feels like a costume party. It’s as if Affleck was afraid to make Joe the truly bad guy he should be. The fedoras and sweet suits all look good, but it’s in the service of a story that has been told before—in far more powerful ways.

Sienna Miller is good as Joe’s early love, and Elle Fanning, who had a great year with The Neon Demon and 20th Century Women, is also good as a disgraced actress who finds a new career in preaching. Again, the movie looks good, and Affleck’s performance is OK, but the story feels like a rehash of every gangster movie ever made.

Live by Night is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

There have been a lot of Moby-Dick adaptations over the years, the best one being the bizarre John Huston version with Gregory Peck going bonkers as Ahab.

There is just no need for another take on the Herman Melville classic right now. Strange, then, that somebody with a lot of money thought there was the need for a movie about the actual events upon which the classic novel was based.

In the Heart of the Sea tells the story of the Essex, an actual whale ship out of Nantucket, Mass., that was sunk by a whale in 1820. The alleged culprit of the sinking was a sperm whale (like Moby), and the sinking resulted in many days on lifeboats for the surviving crew—as well as some cannibalism.

Chris Hemsworth plays Owen Chase, first mate of the Essex. The crew includes Tom Holland as Thomas Nickerson (Hey, it’s Thor and Spider-Man together!), Cillian Murphy (Scarecrow!) as the resident recovering alcoholic, and Benjamin Walker (Abraham Lincoln!) as Captain Pollard—all people who actually existed. However, the story in the film goes way off the real-life script.

In Ron Howard’s film, the whale that did the sinking pulls a sort of Jaws: The Revenge thing and follows the survivors as they float aimlessly in the sea. Chase, who published a true account of the tragedy back in 1821, goes a little crazy here, believing a sperm whale, spotted with white blotches, is out to get him.

That never happened, of course. Yes, a whale sank the ship, and yes, some crewmembers became lunch. No, the whale didn’t follow the survivors and taunt them. It busted up the Essex and then disappeared into the sea for some plankton and leisurely swimming. That’s too boring, so the second half of the movie involves starving men trying to evade a vengeful whale. A whale movie hasn’t been this stupid since Richard Harris pissed off a killer whale in Orca.

This film has the odd framing device of Moby-Dick novelist Herman Melville (Ben Whishaw) interviewing an older Nickerson (Brendan Gleeson), who is telling the story of the Essex as if it had never been told previously. In reality, the story had gotten out long before—such as in Chase’s aforementioned published account. The whole revelatory framing device rings false.

“Stupid” and “nonsensical” (read: whales with vendettas) can be forgiven in an action movie as long as the effects are up to snuff. Such is not the case with Sea. The whale that eventually attacks the Essex is not a convincing entity. It looks like Hemsworth is battling the product of many artists who just couldn’t get things quite right. The blend of live and animated performers is just awful, as are the 3-D effects, if you should be so unfortunate as to have laid out the extra dollars for 3-D.

Hemsworth fares better than he did in the awful Blackhat, but I have no idea what accent he’s trying to use. Is it a Massachusetts accent? Or Hungarian? Klingon?

Holland, a fine actor who was excellent in The Impossible, is tasked with looking scared and hungry, which he does admirably. He essentially has the Jamie Bell role from King Kong, that of the young “golly gosh” novice who has gotten himself into a harrowing nautical situation. They look very much alike.

Howard has made a lot of movies, and this is one of his worst, on the bottom of the pile along with The Dilemma and The Da Vinci Code. Regrettably, his next effort will be a second sequel to Code—dimming his chances of rebounding from this waterlogged dreck.

In the Heart of the Sea is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

It’s a sad state of cinematic affairs when the brilliant Edge of Tomorrow bombs domestically at the box office, while the latest Transformers debacle brings in the big bucks.

Tom Cruise might be a kook, but he usually participates in good movies, and this twisted sci-fi experiment is easily one of his best. Edge of Tomorrow is the sort of spectacle best-suited for the big screen, but it looks like it will have to find fame via home viewing. I have a feeling it will—it’s that good.

Cruise plays a military man handling public relations during an alien invasion. After a rather intense meeting with a commanding officer (Brendan Gleeson), he finds himself sent off to combat—and he quickly dies. However, he wakes up and finds himself living the same experience again—and again, and again.

Yes, the movie has similarities to Groundhog Day, and it does use a sort of sick humor in the many ways Cruise’s character meets his end. Emily Blunt, a new queen of sci-fi after this and Looper, shows up as a soldier who knows exactly what is happening; that creates other interesting scenarios.

This is a movie that delights with every frame; you will kick yourself for missing it in theaters. Yes, Tom Cruise is maddeningly strange sometimes, but he knows a good script when he sees one.

Special Features: You get some decent behind-the-scenes docs and deleted scenes.

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

Tom Cruise must’ve had that Risky Business grin from ear to ear when he first read the script for Edge of Tomorrow: He had to know he had a magnificent movie on his hands.

Watching Edge of Tomorrow is like watching James Cameron’s Aliens or J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek for the first time. It provides many surprises, is often scary, has a lot of laughs and always feels original. This is one of those science-fiction movies that truly brings something new to the genre.

In the future, Earth is fighting a crazed, vicious alien force that is shredding armies. Cruise plays Cage, an armed-forces officer who serves as a public-relations man and doesn’t necessarily belong on a battlefield. After a publicity tour, he sits down with a hard-nosed general (a cold Brendan Gleeson)—and finds out that he is going into battle.

Cage is justifiably terrified, and his first taste of war doesn’t go well. While he does score a couple of decent hits, he is killed in an especially gruesome fashion. For reasons I won’t give away, he instantly wakes up after his death, and is transported back to a moment shortly after his meeting with the general.

Cage is in a seriously messed up situation.

He starts repeating the same day, dying every time. Cage does his best to change that outcome, but he always winds up meeting a grisly death and waking up back in the same place. He eventually comes into contact with Rita (Emily Blunt), the military’s poster girl for the perfect soldier. By repeating days with Rita, Cage starts to build himself up as a soldier, discover secrets about the enemy, and increase longevity for himself and mankind.

It’s not usually cool to laugh when somebody dies, but you will laugh at some of the ways in which Cage meets his end. Cruise embraces the comedic elements of the situation, but he and director Doug Liman (Swingers, The Bourne Identity) keep things away from total silliness. At its core, Edge of Tomorrow is a well-oiled, sometimes-horrific thrill machine that never stalls out or missteps.

Cruise is becoming a major modern-science-fiction force. War of the Worlds, Minority Report, Oblivion and now this movie have established the guy as a sci-fi legend. The same can almost be said for Blunt, who occupied a major role in Looper, another terrific science-fiction film.

Cruise and Blunt are great together. Whether their characters are shooting each other in the head, or getting themselves irreparably bashed up during training sessions, they offer unyielding professionalism and commitment.

Another factor that gives the movie a nice Aliens vibe is the presence of Bill “Game Over!” Paxton as Cage’s ruthless commanding officer. It’s a great role that allows Paxton to take the crazy eyes out of that box in his sock drawer. Remember how edgy Paxton used to be? This movie gives him back some of that edge.

Edge of Tomorrow works on so many levels that I’m going to dare to call it a masterpiece. It’s also one of the year’s funniest movies: It’s not a comedy by definition, but when it gets laughs, it gets big ones.

As for that ending, it might feel a little strange at first, but think about it on the way home. It’s actually quite brilliant.

If you are a Tom Cruise hater, bury that hate. See Edge of Tomorrow—and discover how a blockbuster can be smart, funny, thrilling and totally insane at the same time.

Edge of Tomorrow is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews